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Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot – the 5 R’s of going green

The 5 R’s of going green

It is not longer good enough to buy plastic and feel ok because you recycle it. It is time to refuse, reduce and reuse first. What can you do to influence the producers out there that they have to change? I for one will be changing my shopping habits in 2018. And you can too.

Reduce plastic use


Single Use Plastic

Enough with the veg packed in plastic bags. And the plastic straws. Cotton buds. Ketchup in plastic sachets. This will be the year that I refuse them.

If I had a green grocer that I could walk to, I would go there. When you are aiming to spend less on food and eat healthy, veg is the place to start. Today I bought 1kg sprouts, 1kg carrots and some broccoli in Aldi for 19p each and all wrapped in plastic. My local butcher sells loose veg but can’t compete with those prices. These veg are part of their Super Six offer and with 4 days to go before Christmas they are traditional veg for for Christmas dinner. Supermarkets have buying power so can keep the prices low. Perhaps I need to unpack the veg in plastic bags in Aldi? If they had to pay for all that extra waste, would they change their policy? FFS cucumbers everywhere are seal wrapped in plastic now. If anyone knows where I can get a naked cucumber let me know.

And now I find that some teabags use plastic in the manufacturing process. Going forward it will be plastic free brands or loose tea for me. At the time of writing it seems that Teapigs are plastic free as their tea temples are made from cornstarch not nylon. Brewing fresh tea from loose leaves is another way to embrace slow living. Something many of us could embrace.


When it a friend pointed out to me that the cheap vegetable oil in Aldi was in fact rapeseed oil and half the price of their cold pressed Rapeseed Oil, it made financial sense to buy the cheaper one. Except the cheap one is in plastic bottles whilst the more expensive one is in glass. Another dilemma. Plastic bottle or glass bottle? The plastic is so poor quality it cannot be reused so it will be back to the glass I think – then I can reuse it.

I have already changed my brand of toilet paper to Who Gives a Crap? delivered to my door and not wrapped in plastic.

I am going to stop using cafes that use these:

  • ketchup (and all condiments) in sachets
  • sugar in packets
  • plastic straws (use paper or better still bamboo or stainless steel ones)
  • single use cups (sell a refillable cup)
  • plastic cutlery
  • teabags with plastic in them

I will ask them before ordering and if they don’t meet my criteria, I will leave. Shrug they may, but I stay true to myself.

Reuse (and refill)

Hopefully, soon, there will be a zero waste store, The Clean Kilo, in Birmingham. Then I can take my bottles and jars and fill them there. I am currently saving jars and bottles for this. What they will sell is still to be revealed but I ah hoping that I can fill up my washing detergent and shampoo too. I have stopped all household cleaning items coming into the house and just use washing up liquid and elbow grease. I am keeping the plastic containers they come in to refill.

The paper wrapping my loo roll comes in gets reused too. I don’t use paper towels in the house now, and use this instead. I have not yet used for it wrapping paper but I think I may do soon. I have used it to line bins as I am aiming to stop buying plastic bin liners. I use the inner roll as kindling for my log burner and fire.

I now have my milk delivered and it is in a bottle. That gets reused. Yes I pay more than supermarket milk, but I am happy to do so. I use less milk and I know (hope) that the farmer is getting a fair price for it. Supermarkets drive the price of milk down. And I think that when food is cheap we don’t appreciate it. Watch how people throw food into the trolley at the supermarket and how much they buy. How much of it will be thrown away? In 2015 £13 billion of food was thrown away. If we had to pay more, would we buy with care, take more care of it, and waste less?

As a volunteer at a foodbank your may think I would be saying food should be cheaper – but I don’t think that is the solution for those facing food poverty. We don’t need cheaper food. We need to ensure that people have enough money to buy food and the skills to cook it. Supermarkets ‘reward’ those that can afford to buy in bulk. If you are on a limited income you cannot buy the multipacks.

Recycle (the almost last resort)

I got very smug when my recycling was full – look at me I am so good recycling my stuff. But in reality this is still an expensive way to process the waste that can be reused. Glass jars and bottles could be kept and used in a zero waste store. Plastic can be upcycled to some extent but it never really goes away. It is better to refuse it.

I am old enough to remember when you took the pop bottles back to the shop and got your deposit back. Every Sunday my Aunt would send me to the ‘outdoor’ with her bottles and I got to keep the deposit. Mason’s Pop used to deliver pop to the door, and while I am not saying that getting fizzy drinks delivered is a good thing, the bottles all got reused rather than recycled. One year when stranded on a beach campsite in Athens due to a bank strike, my friend and I collected all the bottles from the beach and used to deposits we got back to buy food for a day. And cleaned the beach up too.

I don’t know what happens to my recycling. I put it in a bin and I have done my bit. I do know that it is a big bucks industry now. Take those coffee pods that are so popular now. The company who makes them (Nestle) got a lot of stick for them contributing to land fill. And suddenly specialist ‘difficult to recycle‘ companies have sprung up. Call my cynical but Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestle, have established a recycling scheme for these pods. Create a problem and then come up with a solution. When the real solution is to not have them in the first place.


Use the compost bin. I am lucky to have a food waste composting service provided by my local authority. I dutifully put all food waste in my little bin under the sink and it gets collected every week. Again, once it leaves my house I have no idea what they do with my food waste. I just feel smug about doing my bit. And yet, food waste is still waste. How much of it could be prevented. Mine is mostly vegetable peelings. Occasionally mouldy or stale bread and sometimes a chicken carcass.

And yet my grandmother would not have had any of this. She would have reused most of it. Stale bread would become a pudding, a carcass a stock for soup together with the peelings. When I had chickens most of my peelings would be added to their food. I have started to make a weekly stock with the peelings and carcass and freezing it in small portions.

Earlier this week, having a cold ridden son out law in the house, who is allergic to both dairy and wheat, I offered to make some soup. Then I read the labels of the various stock cubes I had in the store cupboard. All of them had one or both of these ingredients in them. Fortunately I recalled I had frozen some home made stock, and in less than 30 minutes I produced a carrot soup without additives. That made me feel so much better about choosing to reuse, rather than rot. And at a fraction of the cost to my purse and the environment than buying soup in a plastic carton from the supermarket.

It is your planet

This photo of a seahorse, with a cotton bud, went viral earlier this year. We are polluting our planet because we don’t think about where our waste goes. Plastic is slowly killing our planet. The sea is full of it. The wonderful documentary Blue Planet highlighted this. We put it in the bin and forget about it. It needs to stop.

And if I can do this, then so can you. It is your choice. Your planet. You decide.

For more information about how you can make a difference, here are some links to help you on your way.

Zero Waste Life

Treading My Own Path


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